The Hippo


May 26, 2020








Whatcha Gonna Do With That Duck?
by Seth Godin (Penguin, 571 pages)


1/10/2013 - Provocateur Seth Godin amassed a following by breaking business rules and urging others to do the same. His Domino Project, a venture with Amazon, aimed to inject speed and virility into publishing, ignoring the traditional path to best-seller status via The New York Times and relying instead on “sneezers,” loyal fans who spread sensational ideas like head colds. 
This new way of publishing promotes “exceptionally high quality ideas created without regard for what bookstores and middlemen want.” It has “no patience for obsolete institutions.” So it’s deliciously ironic that Godin’s new book is published by Penguin. As in the venerable publishing house established in England in 1935. Gotta love it.
But also gotta love Godin, who, in Whatcha Gonna Do With That Duck? delivers a daffodil of hope to legacy publishers, a sign that the hardcover, dead-tree book, while pale and gasping, has some breath left in it yet.
Whatcha Gonna Do With That Duck? is a blog: six years of posts, beginning in 2006. Godin put them in a book because “there’s (still) something magical about the linear, permanent nature of a book. Even an ebook feels less evanescent than the disconnected, temporary nature of a blog post,” he writes in the opening.
That may be the most astonishing thing ever written by the guy who makes a living writing astonishing things. Godin built his empire on his business blog, which is about “marketing, respect, and the way ideas are spread.” He spreads his in speeches, in daily blog posts and in 17 previous books, among them the bestsellers Tribes, Purple Cow, Poke the Box, and most recently We Are All Weird.
It’s a terrible, arrogant thing to condense six years and nearly 600 pages into a sentence, but Dorothy did: We’re not in Kansas, anymore.
Therefore, ye small wiry Totos of the business world, you must behave differently. This is Godin’s message. Those who are willing to adapt, to embrace change, will make money, wield power and sculpt fulfilling lives that do not require the permission of others.
Those who do not will wither.
A sampling of Godinisms: 
Waiting for inspiration is another way of saying that you’re stalling.
If it makes you nervous, it’s probably a good idea.
Trust is more scarce than attention.
Great people shouldn’t have a resume.
Successful people fail often, and learn more from that failure than everyone else does.
The office is dead.
Publish your best work online for free.
“Can’t please everyone” isn’t just an aphorism; it’s the secret of being remarkable.
If this all sounds familiar, it is, for anyone who’s read or heard Godin anywhere before. The man is relentlessly on message, having built his own tribe, which is people seeking to build their own — to establish a personal brand, to ride the wild, leaping bronco of technology and tame it for their own uses, which, if this happens to include fame and money, so much the better.   
But the main thing here is not even to become a Godin-like figure yourself, but to have a fulfilling professional life of impact and meaning. To learn things. To stand out, even if it’s because you’re weird. And to spend at least one weekend day hanging with people you love.
Oh, that title — it comes from the adage “get your ducks in a row.” Too many people line up their ducks, and never figure out what to do with them, like the dog that catches the car and then says “now what?” 
Godin’s appeal comes not so much from his boyish, bald self, but his words: He’s sensible, utterly so, which makes him easy to like and to trust. Plus, on his website, you click on his head to read his blog. Click on “blurbs,” you find him upside down.  If you can’t trust a bald father of two hanging upside down his website, really, who can you trust?
He’s fun, fresh and wise, a modern-day Solomon, and this is his Proverbs. Pith has never been so long, but long never so readable.
Godin says a tweet never changed anyone’s life, but a book can, and usually in the first 100 pages. Knowing that, you might be tempted to stop at page 101, but then you wouldn’t learn that half of all visitors to your website leave after less than five seconds, and what Godin says you should do about that … and 500 other things. It’s daily inspiration in sound bites. The writing won’t stand out in your memory, but the precepts will. B+ —Jennifer Graham 

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